GOLD panners are costing the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) millions of dollars annually through vandalism of railway infrastructure by mining along railway lines across the country.
Illegal gold mining has contributed to train accidents that have led to the death of three people in the last 18 months.
The NRZ said Esigodini and Beitbridge in Matabeleland South, Shurugwi, Kwekwe in the Midlands and Bindura in Mashonaland Central are some of the areas that have been hard hit by the gold panning activities.
Government recently took a position to deploy security agents in Beitbridge to ward off gold panners operating along the railway line.
NRZ is now running a campaign aimed at identifying and arresting those damaging the railway infrastructure across the country.
In an interview yesterday, NRZ public relations manager Mr Nyasha Maravanyika said while Government deployed security agents to Beitbridge the problem is widespread in most areas with gold.
“It’s very massive especially in most parts of the country. The Minister (of Transport and Infrastructure Development Felix Mhona) mentioned Beitbridge but this is happening in many places. Other areas are Bindura, Kwekwe in the Great Dyke and Shurugwi, Esigodini and Beitbridge. These are the main areas that are hit by the illegal gold miners. Most of the time they conduct mining operations under the railway line,”
said Mr Maravanyika.
“You will find that the railway line rests on big holes and this affects the railway line as there will be no balance and at the end of day, we lose millions in terms of money and lives are lost as well. The NRZ has taken a proactive role in terms of alerting the Government about the illegal gold panning. Let’s also take note that in terms of the Railways Act, no human activities should be done at least 45 metres from either side of the railway line. These illegal gold panners are right along the railway line, sometimes they even take away some of our rail infrastructure.”
He said the parastatal has lost about $3,6 million through gold panning related vandalism of infrastructure and theft of copper cables in the past four years.
Mr Maravanyika said the vandalism of infrastructure has also led to death and called on courts to impose stiffer penalties on NRZ infrastructure vandals.
“We have also been let down by the judiciary giving perpetrators between three to six months sentences. As NRZ we are lobbying for deterrent sentences. The railway line is part of important national infrastructure and needs to be protected. By imposing heavy custodial sentences, we will protect not just the economy but lives. In the past 18 months we have lost three people through accidents which could have been avoided,”
said Mr Maravanyika.
Damage caused by gold panners on railway infrastructure in Mazowe
Last week, Government was informed that gold panners operating at Matopos Research Institute Farm are threatening international research work aimed at improving agriculture in Southern Africa and beyond, through land degradation that has affected studies on crops and caused the death of pedigree breeding livestock.
The panners are also affecting pastures with farmers complaining that they are losing livestock as a result of haphazard gold panning activities in farms and communal areas.
Minister of State in the Office of the President and Cabinet in charge of monitoring and implementation of special agriculture-related programmes, David Marapira last week directed Ministers of State for Provincial Affairs and Devolution to work closely with the security agents and decisively deal with the illegal gold panners as their operations were threatening economic subsectors.